Gut strings - baby steps

Choice of classical guitar strings and technical issues connected with their use.
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Contreras
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Gut strings - baby steps

Post by Contreras » Tue Feb 07, 2017 9:53 pm

I have taken the first faltering steps in the recondite world of gut strings, and have a few early impressions / remarks to offer, spurred on by the recent post on Carles Trepat.

On Rob's kind advice I got some unvarnished harp strings from Bow, as well as 2 Gs in different gauges from Damian Dlugolecki, marrying them with Aquila Seta, and later Ambra basses. I have (had) 2 sets of trebles to play with.

Let me say right away that I really like the sound - very pure, good sustain, easily distinguished from nylon. I think they would suit some guitars better than others, and perhaps my Contreras with its big Madrid sound is not the ideal test bed. The feel under the left hand is good.

Before the following remarks I will state that I did not cut my nails off; but they are always very short and highly polished. I suppose I wanted to have my cake and eat it :mrgreen:

The E (6th) wore out very quickly - by this I mean it became rough and 'hairy' under the right hand. This impaired the vibration and sound, and made it noisy to play. The B fared no better.
The E felt a little thin and I might try a thicker gauge.

While I freely admit that I could expect them to do better without nails, I can't comprehend how Trepat's strings can last any time if he 'plays nails'. And 100 year old strings - I just don't get it.

So I spent a lot of time with my string-winder last weekend and am back on nylgut. I still have a gut set in reserve but will not put it on just yet - perhaps I'll keep it for the JW Simplicio.

So, an enticing and tantalising experiment - but, it must be acknowledged, an expensive one, with an attrition rate measured in a few days.

(The Aquila D I found quite insubstantial as well ... 2 of them broke, quite unprovoked, and felt thin to the left hand.)

As a footnote to all of this, we (in Sydney) are experiencing a run of extremely hot and humid weather, and I was (rather crossly) beginning to wonder if any strings were going to sound right!
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RobMacKillop
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Re: Gut strings - baby steps

Post by RobMacKillop » Tue Feb 07, 2017 10:42 pm

You say the E(6) wore out. Did you mean E (1)?

Yes, gut will suit some guitars better than others, most likely lighter instruments. Apart from the first string, they tend to take a week or so to start sounding their best, so you possibly removed them before you should have.

I'm pleased you liked the sound and feel, so I'm a little puzzled why you took them off so soon. I would have impressed on you the need to stay with them for a month or so. The memory of nylon and nylgut needs to fade a little, as you enter a new sonic and tonal world. What pitch did you tune them to?

Trepat's 100-year old strings have not been played that long, of course, and according to Mårten, he has a bunch of them. It's also essential that all contact points - nut, bridge holes, frets, and fingers - are smooth, more smooth than they need to be for nylon.

Maybe different gauges would improve things, and the right guitar. As for nails, they were certainly used during the Gut Age (how many thousands of years did that last?), but they do shorten the life of the string somewhat.

Well, at least you tried, and now have some positive and some negative experiences to ponder. That's a lot better than not trying at all. As for me, I am decidedly 100% pro gut these days. I'm just pleased we don't all like the same thing. Life would be so dull!

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Contreras
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Re: Gut strings - baby steps

Post by Contreras » Tue Feb 07, 2017 11:23 pm

Thanks Rob - yes of course I meant 1st.

The reason I took them off so soon was the initially lovely sound had deteriorated significantly, and I'm convinced it was due to that wear in the plucking zone. (I did have them tuned to 435 Hz). There's no question that an aural adjustment is needed, and next time I will leave them on longer - it's not over between me and gut! But I can see it's going to have to be no nails, which is another major adjustment. Maybe my apoyando is too much for them - I've noticed that fraying in the pluck zone with some nylon strings as well.

Hmmm .... I wonder what the Bow synthetics are like .... :roll:
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RobMacKillop
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Re: Gut strings - baby steps

Post by RobMacKillop » Tue Feb 07, 2017 11:54 pm

I have always felt that 435 is too high for gut. The highest I would go would be 430, but am usually found wallowing in the depths of 415. You might try the Bow Brand varnished gut. I'm not a fan of varnished gut, but some people prefer it. You won't know till you try - more expense, I know.

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Contreras
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Re: Gut strings - baby steps

Post by Contreras » Wed Feb 08, 2017 1:17 am

Thanks again Rob - noted. I guess that a lower pitch would give scope for a larger gauge without excessive tension?

Do you think that varnish would make them a bit more more resilient from the wear standpoint? Might also make them brighter, which is not necessarily the objective. Expense be hanged ... what's money for if not pursuit of whatever happens to be grabbing you at the time? :lol: :lol:

Simon
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RobMacKillop
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Re: Gut strings - baby steps

Post by RobMacKillop » Wed Feb 08, 2017 7:49 am

Exactly. Yes, they should stand up to wear, and maybe they were developed for nail players. I don't know for sure. Thickness is not related to the breaking point (counter intuitive for me) so do try the next step up, if you think that would help. And let us know what you think.

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Michael.N.
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Re: Gut strings - baby steps

Post by Michael.N. » Wed Feb 08, 2017 9:56 am

The E won't last much longer, even varnished. I tried to preserve the life of the high E by coating it in shellac, a quick wipe every night. Didn't really improve matters much. I'd be surprised if Trepat gets any more than one week out of an E, assuming he's both practicing and playing concerts on the same string.
Even playing without nails I could only get 4 or 5 days out of one. The B was a few weeks, perhaps a month and the G was more like a year. It didn't matter which make either, I've tried virtually all of them. Same story with the fiddle, a violin E would only last a few days.
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RobMacKillop
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Re: Gut strings - baby steps

Post by RobMacKillop » Wed Feb 08, 2017 9:59 am

Well, my experience is quite different. I've had first-string E's on for months. It's not uncommon for my firsts to last three or four months. I once had one that lasted six months. And, yes, I had one that lasted five minutes...
The 2nd and 3rd last a lot longer. I've had a set for over a year, save for the 1st.

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Michael.N.
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Re: Gut strings - baby steps

Post by Michael.N. » Wed Feb 08, 2017 11:23 am

It could be all down to body chemistry, much in the same way that some people seem to eat through shellac finishes in next to no time. Strange that I don't seem to affect shellac finishes at all yet my gut E strings don't last more than a few days. I seem to remember using La Bella gut strings when I played Vihuela and the highest string lasted just over one day. They are very thin strings though. I soon switched to nylgut, although I did miss the feel of real gut on the finger pad.
Actually I've just had a thought and it might be worth testing to see if it has any effect. I can understand how nails can physically wear away at the string. Finger pads much less so. Next time I use gut I'll try wiping the strings down after every playing session. If it is due to body chemistry it might lengthen it's life span.
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RobMacKillop
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Re: Gut strings - baby steps

Post by RobMacKillop » Wed Feb 08, 2017 12:31 pm

Always a good idea. Some people rub the strings very lightly with almond oil.

larryguitar
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Re: Gut strings - baby steps

Post by larryguitar » Tue May 23, 2017 12:19 pm

I'm going to give gut a go on my new romantic guitar:

viewtopic.php?f=11&t=112457&p=1197288#p1197288

I have to say, I'm not optimistic about making this work if the strings won't last more than a week, as I have read in the above comments.

I've put in an order for strings from Bow Brand,

.70, .80, and 1.00, varnished gut because I play with nails, short, polished, but yes, with nails. ;-) I have two modern classical guitars that I play and so I don't want to cut off my nails.

Someone suggested Aquila Ambra for the basses. What tension should I choose for those strings if I'm tuning the gut to 430?

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RobMacKillop
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Re: Gut strings - baby steps

Post by RobMacKillop » Tue May 23, 2017 2:10 pm

If you are tuning to a lower pitch, you must choose a higher tension than you would normally do.

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tateharmann
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Re: Gut strings - baby steps

Post by tateharmann » Tue May 23, 2017 4:49 pm

larryguitar wrote:
Tue May 23, 2017 12:19 pm
I'm going to give gut a go on my new romantic guitar:

viewtopic.php?f=11&t=112457&p=1197288#p1197288

I have to say, I'm not optimistic about making this work if the strings won't last more than a week, as I have read in the above comments.

I have two modern classical guitars that I play and so I don't want to cut off my nails.
I can't say that they will definitely last longer than a week because your hand isn't mine haha. But even with nails, they can a very long time...much more than a week!

And, it's no crime to play a modern guitar without nails :) that's a sweet looking romantic guitar though!
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MessyTendon
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Re: Gut strings - baby steps

Post by MessyTendon » Wed May 24, 2017 4:33 am

Did you tune the Aquila to standard 440 pitch? I believe they need to be a bit lower on the authentic earlier string materials.

One thing that I think might have a huge affect on the composition of gut strings is the guts themselves. Think about it...gut strings from hundreds of years ago, ate a different diet, than conventional feed animals. There has to be something different about the old gut strings.

We'll never really know what the ancient strings sounded like and it makes you wonder, just exactly who were the string makers. The literature on antique string producers seems rather sparse and void of much actually records of much of anything.

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RobMacKillop
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Re: Gut strings - baby steps

Post by RobMacKillop » Wed May 24, 2017 5:45 am

Indeed, gut is, or was, a living thing, influenced by environmental conditions - add acid rain to the number of contributory factors. I think Mimmo Perufo has written extensively on the history of gut strings.

But gut is not the only thing that has changed. Wood is different, as are we, both physically and psychologically. Guitars are constructed differently, and technique has changed.

I've never believed that what I do is authentic in any historical way, rather I play the way I do because I like the sound of gut and flesh, feeling it has something special about it.

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